The Untold Lie - FINAL | Skillshare Projects

The Untold Lie - FINAL

Step One:  Selecting The Text

I chose the story "The Untold Lie" from Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. A detailed write-up of why I chose this text, how I interpreted it, and the thoughts I had about adapting it can be viewed below.

Step Two:  Drafting The Screenplay


Third Draft Here:

Second Draft Here:

First Draft Here:

Step Three:  Writing The Logline  


After an unexpected question causes him to reevaluate his happiness in life, a serious family-man desperately tries to save a young coworker from making the same mistakes he has.

Thoughts On The Text:

I have chosen the piece “The Untold Lie” from Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. It can be read here:

It tells the story of Ray, a serious, middle aged family man who begins to question his whole life (and his happiness with that life) when Hal, a young, decidedly unserious co-worker asks him for advice. At first, Ray refuses to help Hal but soon thinks better of it and races to reach the young man to prevent him from making the same mistakes Ray has.

What drew me most to the piece was it’s focus on a certain flawed romanticism (that I suspect may affect men in particular) which makes that which we do not possess desirable and inevitably better than what we have. Once Hal plants the seeds of doubt in Ray’s mind, his entire life, his wife, kids, career, seem a burden to the older man. For whatever reason (and again, perhaps this is a male thing), I was reminded of the way that sometimes, on particularly lonely (and tipsy, and lustful) nights, that ex-girlfriend you always fought with becomes, with the clarity of hindsight, the One That Got Away. And you kick yourself for letting her go, forgetting, of course, how miserable she made you and how miserable you made her. There is a broader theme prevalent throughout Winesburg, Ohio that the beliefs we carry with us shape our lives and the paths we take and these themes together form an interesting dichotomy. The things we know as “true” determine our fates and yet these truths are utterly fluid, ephemeral, fickle.

I also appreciate the ambiguity of the story. I know that word is totally overused when discussing storytelling but what works so well about the piece is that while Ray’s burgeoning doubt about his own life seems to have been brought on entirely by Hal seeking advice, it also seems entirely founded. His wife is particularly sharp tongued. He has six children and they live in a “tumble-down frame house”. We learn that Ray is, at times, unhappy with his work as a farm hand and once had dreams of doing other, grander, more romantic things with his life. However, Ray’s understandable discontent with these things has disappeared by the end of the story. His perspective has changed, yet again, because of an external experience that makes him reconsider. While there is no objective truth about Ray’s life and circumstances, he is unable to choose even a subjective one by which to live. The truths he must face are determined solely by things that exist outside of him. How does that old saying go? Comparison is the thief of joy?

The titular “untold lie”, on a literal level, refers to the advice that Ray intends to give to Hal but doesn’t because he realizes it’s untruth. But in another sense, it may refer to the lies we tell ourselves, the world-views and ideals we create to justify our own existences or mitigate the pain and dissatisfaction in them.

Thoughts On Adaptating The Text:

My first instinct, like lots of us, was to modernize the story which is set in the teens of the 20th century. Specifically, the ideas of men imprisoned by domesticity and responsibility got me thinking about post-war (1950s) America and the changes that took hold in the country as it blossomed into a true superpower: the invention of the "traditional family" with the the father as sole bread-winner, higher marriage rates and marriage occurring at younger ages, the baby-boom, the development of suburbs, consumerism, the rise of car culture and the growth of infrastructure to support it.  For this reason I chose to set the piece in the 1970's, an era in which the American ideals of the 50's had not only been overturned by the social revolution of the 60's, but had also begun to decay.  This dynamic reminded me of Ray's lost youth and his un-moored sense of self.  

One of the biggest difficulties with this update would be adapting the locations. In the text, the setting is pastoral and the motif of nature, with it’s promises of expansive freedom, solitude, and a return to simpler times, is repeatedly touched upon as an emblem of what Ray desires but cannot attain despite his proximity to it. Both Ray and Hal are farmhands, in touch with the land. Once Ray begins to reevaluate things, he is suddenly taken with the beauty of the landscape around him, as if he’s never truly noticed it before, and he longs for the natural world as his wife harps on him about all the “puttering” he does. When Ray desperately searches for Hal, he wanders through fields and meadows, not down city streets and sidewalks. I wanted to preserve these ideas, but translate them into a modern context and I could think of no better symbol of male freedom and expression, particularly in the mid-20th century, than that of the automobile. I imagined Ray in his Ford, getting on the highway and opening up the the engine and just driving off into the distance. Away from his wife and kids and and the claustrophobia of familial and professional duty. Ray and Hal are now mechanics and Ray spends much of the story behind the wheel of his car both able and unable to escape.

Another reason I chose this story was because of how internal so much of the action was and I knew it would be a challenge to follow a main character who is so stoic and yet experiencing and feeling so much. Personally, I was excited to see just how much could be communicated visually with as little dialog as possible.

Side note: There’s a cute little side story in “The Untold Lie” about Hal’s father committing suicide in a splendidly dramatic fashion and how many of the men in the town of Winesburg secretly admire the act. “Most boys have seasons of wishing they could die gloriously instead of just being grocery clerks and going on with their humdrum lives,” Anderson writes. The anecdote is another nod the quixotic instincts of men so central to the story and, of course, it’s the first element of the piece that needed to cut. A shame...



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